Television thrives on outrage. So does social media. Welcome to another instalment of Q&A! Week after week it putters along giving airtime to a collection of political figures that might as well work out the back at your local Red Rooster for all the name recognition they have. Occasionally figures from pop culture appear on the panel, only to come away lacking both popularity and culture. Sometimes there are even songs, making the whole exercise feel like a half-baked salute to the glory days of Frankie J Holden’s In Melbourne Tonight.
IMT had a wheel segment, Q&A has Twitter. It’s sometimes difficult to tell which is the better option when it comes to audience participation. When Q&A arrived in 2008, it was Twitter-free, on Thursday nights, and attempting to keep the bastards honest. Tony Jones said ‘Spin will be problematic’ when it came to guests on Q&A dodging questions. Presumably the Jones of 2013 wonders where it all went so very, very wrong as Barnaby Joyce interrupts everyone else for the fifteenth time.
It wasn’t until 2010 and a move to Monday nights that Q&A decided to invite Twitter onto the screen. Now there was a chance your name and your tweet could end up on the screen during the show, simply by adding the hashtag #qanda to your 140 character quip about the lack of gender balance on the panel.
For Q&A watchers, adding a Twitter feed was a great idea. Bonus smartarse comments on the bottom of the screen? Excellent! And because the people actually talking on Q&A were rarely saying anything all that gripping, you didn’t miss much if you just focused on reading the tweets. Q&A had crowdsourced the job of providing commentary: they could cherry pick the most insightful tweets – and the funniest ones – to spice up what was otherwise a traditionally boring political panel show.
Meanwhile, over on Twitter, the desire to appear on Q&A turns a useful information source and/or moderately effective time-waster into a wasteland of dickheads making rapid-fire quasi-smartarse comments in the desperate hope that Teacher will pay attention to them. Twitter becomes all but un-useable Monday nights from 9.30 as people go from talking to each other and providing interesting links to shouting out gibberish to an unseen overlord. According to a September 2012 report, ‘Since first hitting our screens, Q&A has generated more than 1.7 million tweets in total.’ Who knew there was such a demand for comments on politicians’ sour facial expressions and poor social skills week in week out?
Twitter has outgrown Q&A. Twitter has its own set of concerns and interests, and they don’t involve aimless mid-level chit-chat about issues the major parties only pretend to disagree on. When Q&A has a discussion on, say, education, it means less than nothing. None of the politicians involved will feel the slightest pressure to change a single thing about the way they do business, and when the show is over it’s as if it never even happened. It’s entertainment, nothing more. And usually a whole lot less.
In contrast, these days social media can occasionally get things done. Whether you agree with the campaigns or not, Twitter activism has been able to highlight actual issues in our wider society. Offensive speech has been targeted. Councils have been told to let food vans park where they like. Various bars have been told to let mothers and babies in. It all seems petty and small, until you compare it with the absolutely nothing that gets done on Q&A week in week out.
By piggybacking onto Twitter, Q&A takes a useful tool for online discussion and belts it around the head with a spanner for an hour. It’s hard to imagine who would profit from disrupting such a useful grass-roots method of social activism… though the combination of old media types and politicians found on the panel of Q&A every single week might be a good place to start.
I guess Frankie J Holden was busy that night.
Anthony Morris is a Killings columnist and has been reviewing films for almost 20 years for a variety of publications, many of which have closed down through no fault of his own. Though his insistence on reviewing every single Adam Sandler movie may have played a part.